In my last blog post, I mentioned that I'd touch on a topic that's troubling to me as a goldfish keeper: The fact that sometimes, despite your very best efforts as an aquarist, following a care regime that's tried and true and proven by hundreds of other folks, goldfish sometimes just up and die on you anyway. It's really the ugly side of this hobby, and one that most of us don't really like to delve into too much. But I wanted to address what I think is one major element that can lead to the untimely demise of our finned friends.
Goldfish, as a severely mutated species manipulated by man to have extreme physical characteristics, have the genetic deck stacked against them from the get-go. Breeding for telescopic eyes, fluid-filled sacs, extreme wens, arched backs, tucked tails, short deep bodies, large humps, pearled scales, or any of the seemingly limitless attributes that people have come to treasure in fancy goldfish, results in fish that are seriously less than hardy. Few, if any, breeders (particularly ones breeding on a commercial scale) give much, if any, consideration to health and longevity when producing their stock. Let's face it: Pretty goldfish sell. And we, the buying public, like to buy ryukins with humps, bubble eyes with sacs, orandas with wens, ranchus with tail tucks, and on and on.
(And before anyone thinks I'm speaking from some high-and-mighty place here, I'm the first to admit that I'm just as easily wowed and wooed by a pretty fishy as anyone else. In fact, right now I'm keeping my first ever bubble eye goldfish, a variety that is bred with absolutely no regard for the fact that the Jell-O balloons by its face make it slow, off-balance, and incredibly susceptible to infection in the almost inevitable situation when one of the sacs bursts.) Note: This post is also not a condemnation of the fact that goldfish are bred for extreme physical characteristics at the expense of their health. I'm really not interested in debating the ethics of it; it's something I accept as a goldfish fact, and I happen to really love those extreme features.
So I am not, repeat not, implying that breeding fancy varieties of goldfish is unethical. But what I am saying is that as goldfish keepers, we need to be aware that we start out with a serious disadvantage in our hobby of choice. Our fish just ain't healthy. Those extreme features can and do cause myriad complications, many unseen, that undermine the integrity of the fish's health overall.
Lovely to look at, but what does that mean in the long run?
In terms of care, those of us who take goldfish keeping seriously -- the few, the rare, the best of us -- always strive to do it better. We want to know what goldfish need to thrive, not just live. What makes them grow and flourish? What can we do to make our fish blossom? What makes for a HAPPY fish? And we plan our care accordingly, incorporating elements like quarantine, preventive treatment for various diseases, regular and large water changes, offering a variety of high-quality foods, etc. In short, we give our goldfish every possible reason to live long, healthy lives.
And sometimes, they die anyway. More often than not, we don't know why. I don't know even a single serious goldie keeper, on Koko's or elsewhere, who hasn't lost what would be considered an appalling number of animal lives if their hobby of choice revolved around, say, kittens. A short browse through the forum archives reveals that goldfish, even in incredibly experienced and dedicated hands, die routinely. Some folks don't broadcast when it happens, but it becomes apparent over time that their posts and pics no longer feature favorite fish of yesteryear (or yestermonth, alas).
Are all goldfish doomed to die, regardless of our efforts? Of course not. And there are plenty of examples of long-lived fancies both on this forum and around the world. But I just wanted to present my particular take on the longevity of goldfish, wherein I view goldfish keeping as more of an exercise in keeping fish alive in spite of the genetic factors stacked against them, rather than a hobby in which everyone starts on a level playing field, with a healthy, problem-free goldfish, and must simply proceed from that point and keep that fish alive. Following a simple formula of "Do A, and B, and the end product is guaranteed to be a healthy fish" doesn't apply here. Goldfish are a challenging variety for ALL aquarists.
And you know what? Instead of finding all this depressing, it actually cheers me somewhat. We're all in this together, and while there will be failures, they happen to all of us. And they can make the times we win even sweeter.